300 Word Writing Challenge #48 -- VICTORY TO THE JUDGE!

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The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
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The inspiration image for Challenge #48 is:

Mumbai Laundry Ghats.jpg


Image credit: Bryan Wigmore (HareBrain)


THE CHALLENGE:

To write a story in 300 words or fewer
INSPIRED
by the image provided above
in the genre of

Science Fiction, Fantasy, or other Speculative Fiction



As well as receiving
the Dignified Congratulations/Grovelling Admiration of Your Peers

the winner
has the option of having his/her story published on the Chrons Podcast



THE RULES:

Only one entry per person

All stories Copyright 2023 by their respective authors,
who grant the Chronicles Network the non-exclusive right to publish them here



This thread will be LOCKED until January 10th 2023
As soon as the thread is unlocked, you may post your story


Entries must be posted no later than January 31st 2023 at 11:59 pm GMT

Voting will open on February 1st 2023 and will close on Febraury 15th 2023 at 11:59 pm GMT
(unless moderators choose to make an extension based on the number of stories)



We ask all entrants to do their best to vote when the time comes

But you do not have to enter a story to vote
as we encourage ALL Chronicles members
to read the stories and take part in choosing the winning entry!


You may cast THREE votes

NO links, commentary or extraneous material in the posts, please
The stories must stand on their own



PLEASE REMEMBER THIS IS A FAMILY-FRIENDLY FORUM

For a further explanation of the rules see Rules for the Writing Challenges

This thread is to be used for entries only
Please keep all comments to the DISCUSSION THREAD


** Please do not use the "Like" button in this thread! **

 
Of Seamstresses and Streams

Where are we going? Like sheets drying in the slow winds of fate, our destinations are as unseen as the drops of moisture lifted from the fabric and carried on the breeze up and up, ever so high, to become clouds and rain, then puddles splattered to soak the trousers of some unsuspecting pedestrian.

Chloe growled. Wet again! What was it with her and getting splashed? She raised her fist to shake at the playing kids who had stomped the nearby puddle, but it was too late. They’d already moved on to terrorize their next victim. Oh well. She sighed and brushed as much of the water and mud off as she could.

The town bell chimed signaling that she was late. Of all things, to be late on the first day of a job she wasn’t even supposed to have. Her feet pounded the puddles as she ran.

Thankfully no one noticed her tardiness. No one noticed her slink along the river to a tub filled with the dirty garments of the city’s nobles, noticed her scrub and toil, becoming more soiled with each blouse and overcoat she washed, transferring the dirt and grime from the rich garments onto her own increasingly tattered rags. No one noticed at all. And for that she was grateful.

It wasn’t everyday the Queen’s daughter—and sole heir—could escape the stuffy confines of the keep to rub elbows with the people she would soon serve. But she didn’t really want to do laundry. No, what Chloe really wanted was to sew. To take a ripped skirt and make it whole again. If she couldn’t do that, how could she fix the war torn mess of a nation her mother had created? Perhaps tomorrow the seamstress would call upon her.
 
Data Wash

The heat and humidity of the Indian afternoon only extenuated the atmosphere of the large, busy open-air laundry in the Slums, as the aroma of detergents and fresh water mixed with the stench from the massive garbage dump nearby.

In his laundry pool, Pankaj washed the last of the linins from the Chinese Consulate. Seven of the dozen linins had a terabyte memory thread woven into them, and his smart watch indicated that the last terabyte was loaded into its memory, ready for transfer into the shirt of a Japanese customer. As he washed the shirt the several memory threads woven within it began receiving the data stored in his watch. His assistant took the Chinese linins and made curtain they were, ‘Unfortunately Lost’.

As Pankaj continued his task, he heard a drone flying above then saw several Police Robots ascend into the laundry targeting the shack near him. As the Police Robots encircled the shack, several teens with smart phones scattered throughout the laundry. The robots chased them down as the drone departed.

One teen stumbled through Pankaj’s pool causing him to jump back, dropping the shirt. Immediately a Police Robot descended into his pool causing Pankaj to climb out in fear. He froze as its hand withdrew from the pool, a memory stick. It turned and departed leaving Pankaj nervously breathless.

Retrieving the shirt, he continued the washing and data transfer. When it was cleaned, dried and folded, his assistant delivered it while Pankaj uploaded a data copy into his personal Memory Cloud. Later that day his watch received a text in Japanese:
‘DATA CONFIRMED. PAYMENT DEPOSITED.’

Pankaj surveyed his kingdom, and grinned. He could leave India, or not; he was fast becoming the wealthiest data broker in Deli. So, why abandon the gold mine?
 
Hasty

There’s something bad in the dhobi ghat. Tanmay is not sure what, but tonight he knows where. The prototype motion tracker he volunteered to test confirms what he’s been saying for weeks.

Something rapid is passing, using routes that people simply can’t take: crossing corrugated roofs without a sound, zig-zagging through hung laundry without disturbing even a sheet.

Probably a Rathi gone haywire - cybergear and mythological fervour causes odd forms of cyberpsychosis. Possibly an animorph, but no particular strain comes to mind. He’d wager - if he were one of those weak enough to indulge - it’s a mad Rathi.

He continues walking the centrelines between the wash pens like the night patrols always do. The tracker indicates it stopped one pen over, on the left. At the last moment, he leaps sideways, then points both weapon and tracker over the wall into that pen. His headlamp shows nothing but still, dirty water.

Tanmay smiles.

“I can wait longer than you can hold your breath.”

Ten minutes pass.

A scaled head rises slowly from the water. Black and cream scales reflect his torchlight, then shining green eyes open. Arms spread. Neck wattles flare above the collar of a tailored stealth suit. Her lower body is serpentine.

A full-snake nagimorph! Rarest of the very rare.

“I presume you have reason to be here?”

She nods, moving slowly to reveal the credentials of a secure courier.

An express messenger cutting through the ghat, simply to save time. That, he hadn’t considered.

Water overwhelms the ankle seals on his churidars and fills his boots. He shivers.

“Get gone.”

She goes: quick, sinuous, and near-silent.

He’ll report that the tracker works well. The rest? Not to be mentioned again.
 
The Hunt

The Grand Market of Nazar brought visitors from all parts of the empire. Barbarians from the Ice Isles, their pale skins conspicuous among a sea of black and brown. Veiled priestesses of the Nine Blind Gods, led by boys of exceptional beauty. Elegantly attired women and men, half of them minor aristocrats and the other half cutpurses.

The latter might have found the geomancer Volen easy prey, unarmed and stout as he was, had it not been for the presence of the warrior Kha by his side, her daggers worn conspicuously. The pair made their way past fortunetellers, vendors of silks, musicians, purveyors of lentil stew, and countless other merchants and entertainers. Volen held a curiously wrought object in his hand, composed of numerous sticks of various rare woods. The sticks moved in multiple directions as he walked.

"Our quarry is near," he said. "We must wait until she has no means of escape." A light breeze carried the mingled scents of sweat and spices to them as they strolled with apparent disinterest in the direction indicated by the object.

"Now," he whispered. They approached a child dressed in rags, sitting between the stalls of a barber and a bookseller, chewing on a roasted beet. She stood in alarm as they neared.

"Didn't steal," she said, glancing around for a means of escape. "Found."

"Indeed." Volen showed her the wooden oracle. "You have a talent for finding things. So do I, with the aid of devices like this. Would you like to be my apprentice, and learn how to use them?"

The girl considered. She pointed at Kha. "Teach me to use them blades?" After a moment, Kha nodded. The three left, bound for Volen's workshop.

"Glad you found her," Kha said.

"Did I? Or did she find me?"
 
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The Adventure at the Flying Carpet Factory

Kal was working in Djinnistan at a factory that produced soaring big rugs for travel. He hated the monotony of the place, was sick of just going through the motions. So, one day, Kal broke the main policy agreement: He used one.

Kal did it as everyone gaped at him in disbelief. The carpet took him up 50 feet into the air, and he surveyed the land beyond the electric fences. Kal traveled west for hours until he could see thing he'd never seen in the most escapist magazines: onion-topped towers; vast temples; deserts marked by strange flora.

The skies grew grey, and a mist began to slowly leak, much to Kal's horror. It was beginning to rain, and his first lesson on the job was that wet flying carpets were no longer fliers. He began to sink down with the carpet, and he hysterically willed it to approach earth gradually.

Perhaps Allah listened to his prayers, as he rather roughly, but safely, in a dense emerald forest. Kal relaxed for a while. There was a running stream that remedied his dry throat. As he leaned over it, he noticed a bubble in the water. Suddenly, a crocodile struck--!

Kal woke with a start. His wife caught him.

"It's just a dream, honey," his wife soothed. He let out a sigh and hugged her.

"It was so strange--I dreamt I was in ancient Arabia or something, and I worked at a factory for flying carpets!"

"Fly carpets? How droll!" she said.

She got out of bed and went into the kitchen.

"Hungry?" she asked.

"Sure, dear," he said.

Kal watched her go about the cupboards and wondered what a dryad like her was doing with a faun like him. His mouth watered at the smell of freshly cut grass.
 
The problem of Galluntium Bedanticle

Galluntium Bedanticle has:
  • A jar
  • A shed
  • And time to think about both of them
Life wasn't always like that. He used to wash clothes for a living. But that was long ago.

Well, not quite -he stopped three days ago.
On the evening before the storm.

'I'm gonna stay out and see if Maghera is right, and The Guth exists', he told colleagues at the laundry.

'Don't be foolish', they replied, 'that storm will bring Dubhsallagh down from the hills.'

But Galluntium Bedanticle didn't listen. He just hid. And waited.

Soon the howling began.

Maghera stepped out of his shed holding a jar.

'Go home devil. Or I'll set The Guth on you', roared Maghera.

The howling continued.

Galluntium watched as Maghera opened the jar.

'What do you want?', echoed a voice.

'A storm has brought Dubhsallagh here, Guth.'
  • Buildings shook
  • The laundry shook
  • Maghera's shed shook
  • The ground under Galluntium Bedanticle shook
Then there was silence.

Maghera thanked The Guth, placed a lid on the jar, and walked back into his shed.

Galluntium Bedanticle didn't take the time to wonder why Maghera lived in a shed.
Instead Galluntium walked over and kicked the shed door open.
'Give me that jar so I can hold the power of The Guth', he demanded.

'Sure', replied Maghera, 'but you should know you’ll get no money from holding The Guth.'
Maghera paused.
'But. People need clean clothes. If you like, we could swap lives. I can wash clothes, and you can hold The Guth.'
Galluntium agreed, and grabbed the jar.

He opened the lid.

Nothing happened.

'Why does The Guth not appear to do my bidding?'

'The Guth only controls Dubhsallagh, Galluntium. People have to do everything else. Goodbye.'

Galluntium was left with:
  • A glass jar
  • A shed
  • And time to think
 
A Tale of Love and Laundry

When people first came to this valley, the mountain Magi wore a cloak of silver-green, fragrant with resin, on which she gathered sparkling drops of morning dew. If people wanted to wash their clothes, they lay these on the dewy shrubs, for that was all the water in the valley. They thanked Magi for sharing her water-cloak and for perfuming their garments.

Magi gave little thought to the people for she thought only of her one great love, Kivi, the rocky tor across the valley. Magi and Kivi caressed each other with shadows in the morning and the evening. This was how the mountains had always loved each other, and it was enough for them, until people moved into the valley. Kivi saw how the people could reach out to one another and touch and hug and kiss and he was envious of them.

“Magi,” he said, “shadow-touching is not enough, I will reach and touch you my own self.”

“But Kivi,” Magi said worriedly, “you are a mountain, not a man, you cannot move freely as men move. Let us keep on as we have always done, for I love you as a mountain as you are.”

Kivi did not listen and tried with all his might to reach across the valley to his love. His efforts shook the earth and finally his rocky crest toppled into the valley, fingers of rubble reaching Magi’s verdant feet. He had touched her at last, but destroyed himself so doing.

Magi trembled and sobbed, her tears flowed down and filled the valley, and the people gathered the rocks that remained of Kivi and built catchments to hold her tears. She is still crying to this day, and people come from miles around to wash their clothes in her tears.
 
A Smile More than Memory

You can't strip the stink of mold from the air – once the growth gets into the recyclers, it's never clear of the system.
As it is here on Mars, so it was on Titan, but with algae – the place ran on algae. Food, clothing, fuel – all derived from that malodorous, green swill.
I regard the photo cloned from Google Maps Saturn: a factory floor of honeycombed growing vats, two grunts on a platform stirring algal broth with long paddles.
My only picture of Margie. They'd wiped our tabputer, wiped our cloud, rifled our room, made it seem she'd never existed on that bleak moon.
But I've remembered something they never knew – there was a shift when a Google drone flew over the floor, photographing everything.
Margie and I had smiled for posterity.

Now, there we are on-screen, faces blurred for privacy – we'd been citizens and they'd said we had rights… lying bastards.
I'd read her the news story; the moon's governor was dying, his organs crashing. They'd come to the factory, taken blood samples.
I remember Margie not coming home and my desperate search.
They'd found me in our tiny room, kidnapped me to the spaceport, dumped me on Mars.
Yesterday it reached here, six-month-old news from Titan: the governor had recovered – a donor had been found for a multi-organ transplant, some unnamed factory worker, killed accidentally.

I adjust the settings on the illegal scrubber-program. The Google Maps image shivers, then settles – our faces are slightly clearer. I make adjustments, shiver the photo again.
I'm nobody, powerless; this picture, even clear, would prove nothing to any authority in the system. And maybe I'd be the next victim of an 'accident'.
I recalibrate the scrubber.
All I want is this image clear enough so I'll never forget her smile.
 
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Rahab

At the open-air laundry, Rahab checked her lines. She took the dry sheets down, folding them neatly into baskets.

She didn't recognize three purple sheets hanging on her farthest line. Was someone else using her lines? She left them alone, focusing on her heaps of sheets and linens.

Later her sister Magda came by to deliver yesterday's workload to the hotels and hospital. Rahab asked her about the purple sheets.

Magda shrugged. "Such brilliant color. Someone will claim them."

As the sun touched the horizon, Rahab finished her work.

She approached the mystery sheets. She touched one.

It moved. She jumped back. Fluttering as though shaken, it had felt strangely warm. It had flinched from her—as though alive.

Alive? Ridiculous! She put away her soaps, bleach, and pins, then hurried homeward. She'd deal with the purple sheets tomorrow.

The next day she ignored the purple sheets until her work was done. With nothing left to do, she stood quietly in front of them.

She reached out.

She touched one. Again it flinched, but more gently this time. It trembled, then a corner of the sheet wrapped loosely around her wrist. Warmth crept from wrist to hand and arm.

It pulsed.

It caressed her—softly, tenderly.

A wash of peace passed over her.

In her mind, she "heard" its story. They were refugees fleeing an evil empire from the stars. They needed a place to hide from those sent after them.

"More will come?"

Yes, but we can prepare you. We have seen what your people are capable of. With your help, we can easily overcome them.

Rahab took them home. As she wondered about what would happen next, she felt both pride and shame when she pondered the alien's words.

What your people are capable of…
 
Bounty Hunted

It’s always the damned accents that cause me trouble. Assuming a different shape is easy and mimicking expressions and mannerisms takes only a little effort. Human vocal cords though? They’re a bitch!

Still, as long as interactions are superficial, I’m unlikely to get rumbled, especially by the downtrodden unfortunates in the Garment Quarter. They’re too busy simply existing to pay much attention, and most find ten bucks too tempting for their principles to stand in the way anyway. I say most, for there’s always the odd altruist whose hatred for shapeshifting aliens outweighs the hunger in their belly.

Walking through the maze of passages and courtyards of Scrubbing Row, a rare gust of wind blows fresh washing into my path. A woman curses as I brush it aside but I ignore her, my eye drawn to a man, furtively ducking out of sight into an alley.

I follow, secure in the knowledge that should his plan be to relieve me of my wallet, the nanotech shield next to my skin will protect me from a shiv. I’d been hoping not to stand out at all, but I’m guessing this lowlife maybe thinks I don’t quite fit in and is chancing I might be worth robbing. I’ll use this to my advantage; he could well move in the same circles as my target.

As expected, he’s waiting around the corner.

“Hello, shapeshifter.”

Now that I wasn’t expecting. And there is something off about his accent too…

Too late I realise what he is and cannot avoid inhaling the vapour that he sprays in my face. I feel myself go rigid and then I am looking up at him from the ground, paralysed. Helpless.

Unblinking, I watch as his face morphs into that of my quarry; the assassin Rakna.

Oh shi…
 
Extraction

Shali straightened up, rubbing her lower back, trying to knead the muscles back into their proper alignment. The extraction today was brutal, the sun beating down, the caustic suds biting quickly through her skin’s overnight efforts to heal itself. A half-hearted breeze stirred through the bright folds of the cleaned clothing, setting them dancing listlessly.

A harsh alarm blared across the compound, signalling the end of the morning’s shift. Shali glanced down at the small pile she had yet to peg up on the lines, and the basin of thick, opaque liquid. Days of grime, sweat, blood, tears and other bodily fluids, forced out by hand and into the solution, taking layers of her with it. She heard the splattering sound of liquid through the screens of hanging clothing as the rest of her shift squeezed out the remaining liquid from whatever they had been rinsing, and then a moment’s rare silence. The wind shifted the clothing once more, caressing her worn face before the gurgling rush as the liquid was drained back through the complex of cisterns and funnels, sucking away the reeking mess.

Above, an Oh-Lay drone hovered, monitoring them as they walked the narrow alleyways towards the break section and the rations of rice and dahl that awaited. Wafts of spice filtered up through the air, but the drone took none of it in, watching only to ensure the employees left in an orderly manner, keeping a myopic eye on the remains of the precious liquid as it was pulled back to the factory vats, for processing and release to the polished shelves of boutiques around the world. Aionia Eternal, antiaging cream extraordinaire, the propriety cocktail of ingredients of which would never trouble the vanishing worry lines of its users.
 

Washing Cycles​


“Irony,” said Deepak, gazing over the Mahalakshmi Dhobi Ghat. “That’s what they call it, my friend.”
Prasana, his lifelong wingman, scowled. “Fool! It’s washing, not ironing.”

Some things never changed: Prasana’s lousy puns; the rickety, cockroach-ridden scaffold they were stood upon; and the legions of launderers plying their generationally bequeathed trade in the searing, suffocating murk to scrub, thrash, and wring their way through mountains of linen gathered from all over Mumbai.

Some did, though. Thirty years ago, they’d stood in this exact spot – two gaunt, scruffy ten-year-old’s, each facing a lifetime of fourteen-hour shifts cleaning bedsheets, replicating the lives their long-suffering parents quietly decried. Lives they’d sworn to escape. There were better prospects, surely. Wasn’t India the world’s fastest-growing nation? So, Deepak and Prasana had got thinking. As teenagers, they’d researched washing machines – which many successful Dhobi Ghat clans owned – and how to build them. And, using parts scavenged from all over town, they’d done exactly that. And one had become two had became five. By the time they were thirty they’d had five machines and a thriving, albeit modestly profitable business.

Then, in 2065, Earth’s oil reserves finally ran dry. Power? No problem - coal was abundant, still, underpinning an armada of renewables. The tiny plastic washers integral to washing machines, however? Nada. Gone. World shortage. Now, whilst nations dredged landfill for microplastics to melt down into oil, poorer districts almost exclusively serviced the wealthy’s washing. The difference? They were paid handsomely now. Deepak, Prasana and their wives worked regular eight-hour shifts, five days a week, inside an air-conditioned shed, whilst immigrant workers ran the machines overnight. In ten years, they’d have enough money to retire.

“One-point-seven billion people, Pras.” Deepak said, watching the nightshift crew roll in.
Prasana smirkingly counted his fingers. “Twelve billion sweaty briefs, DP.”
 
One Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy

I haven’t cleared my station before the chute vomits another mountain of soiled garments and sheets from the People Upstairs. Sweat drips from my forehead, oppressive heat joining the endless sea of others like me.

The station never clears; no sooner than I send clean up do I get dirty back. Respite does not exist. I have been here . . . Gods, how long have I been here?

I reach for the latest pile, but, my arm; what is this weirdness that is my arm? I hold it out, twist it, flex my fingers, feeling but feeling different, seeing but seeing different, abruptly, acutely aware of this fleshy appendage that is mine waggling about in the air at my command, electrical signals and muscle and tendon and bone and skin and . . .

The old lady next to me turns, her lips moving, warm air vibrating in exquisite patterns, waves traveling across the oppression of this room; “wkmgrq xqflgf jrjcke?”

“What?”

“mcjwpm!”

“I don’t; what is this?!”

Behind her, oh no, the Man in the Suit, coming this way, looking at me with eyes like mine, gelatinous spheres rotating in their –

No! Not like mine! Hollow, depthless, I peer into them, looking to the black center of the not-man striding towards me, and –

Darkness. Where am I?

Where am I? My flesh is gone, and what remains? No eyes to see, no skin to feel, no mouth to scream, consciousness alone in the void.

But I remain. I am.

Of course! I am!

Choice? Choice. The Choice.

I open my eyes, flat on my back in my flesh prison.

No, not prison. I am, and I choose, ergo I am free.

The old lady holds a cup of steaming black liquid to me.

The chute vomits another mountain of kaleidoscopic stains.

I laugh.
 
Annual General Meeting of the Evil Cybernetic Corporation


"So, my automated associate, how fares our galactic empire?"

"Very well, master."

"Excellent. Did you take care of our rivals, the Rigellian Rascals, as I commanded?"

"Yes sir. We took them for a slap-up meal..."

"But..."

"...before treating them to an all-expenses-paid night out on the luxury planetoid Pollux Prime."

"You nefarious nincompoop! When I said I wanted them taken care of, I meant that I wanted them taken care of, not taken care of!"

"Bzzzzz... does not compute! Does not compute!"

"Don't get your transistors in a twist."

"Sorry master. If it's any consolation, they said that they really enjoyed it."

"It isn't. Never mind, I will handle them later. Now onto other matters; did you deal with Betelgeuse Bob, the meddlesome secret agent who infiltrated our organisation?"

"Yes master. We played Old Maid, Happy Families, Go Fish... I'm afraid to say that he beat us every time."

"Grrrr... when I said 'deal with him', I didn't mean... oh, forget it!"

"Did we do something wrong sir?"

"That's the problem with having robotic henchmen. Why do you take every command so literally?!"

"I have better news for you on the money laundering side of the business."

"Well that's something at least."

"Yes master. All of your seven trillion Altarian Dollars have been thoroughly washed, scrubbed and bleached. I'm afraid that they're still a bit... soggy. I've left them in a pile in the corner over there."

"You metallic moron! All my money mushed... my evil empire eviscerated. I knew I should have listened to my father; 'Buy a cat,' he said, but oh no, I had to go out and get a bunch of thickheaded tin men..."
 
Brilliant!

Jimmy unrolled a prison blueprint across the table. Corridor upon corridor, cell upon cell. Every door, every window, every alarm detailed.

“How the hell did you get that?”

“Spider, my boy, money talks. And Slugs Garcia has got more than most. It’s our job to get him out so he can spend it. Some of it on us.”

Smiles and laughter all round.

“So, what’s the plan? The place looks impossible.”

“You will remember that seven years ago a single inmate, by the name of Scraggs, escaped the hospitality of Her Majesty’s prison Highgate.”

“Yeh and what followed turned the place into the securest prison in Europe. How does that help?”

“Let me introduce you to this gentleman who will remain nameless – so don’t ask. He has access to the Greenwich Time Research Facility.”

“Wot! The Time Machine?”

“The very same, sunshine. We know which cell Scraggs graced with his presence so the idea is that, with use of said Time Machine, we get Garcia to be the sole occupant of that cell on the night of the breakout. Simple or what?”

“Brilliant!”

“Just a minute. If Garcia gets out seven years ago he won’t need to pay us to get him out today! Will he?”

Silence.

“Suppose we get him to pay us the money seven years ago – before we break him out?”

“Brilliant!”

“But if we get the money in advance then there’s no need to bother getting him out.”

“Brilliant!”

“So, let’s get this straight. We use the Time Machine to tell him to pay us the money then just leave him there with no risk of us getting caught!”

“Brilliant! Let’s do it!”

“But we haven’t got the money have we? So, it didn’t work did it?”

“Maybe we didn’t do it.”

Silence…
 
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“As You Have Done It to the Least of These”

Gunnery Mate Steven Mayfair stood fearfully at attention. The Captain would now pass judgment. He was guilty and a death sentence possible.

Two Days before:

Steven was calculating the missile trajectory for his target on Shay’s Planet. When the First Mate walked in.

“Can you tell me why we’re attacking that laundry?” Steven asked. “There are two battle forts and a Shargon fleet in orbit. And we are attacking a hand-powered laundry?”

First Mate Brenda Bakker raised a quizzical eyebrow. “Steve, you do realize that a direct fleet engagement is suicide. Hit-and-Run is our only chance and that laundry is just one of many civilian targets. What’s bugging you anyway?”

“Well Ma’am, those civilians aren’t our enemies. They don’t have ships and missiles. How much influence do those civilians have on the navy anyway? It can’t be much.”

“More influence than you think, gunnery mate. They have little political power but the old adage that ‘an army runs on its stomach’ still applies. If we can disrupt their support system sufficiently, they will be forced to withdraw. Now, stop worrying about morality. That’s above your paygrade. Do your job Gunnery Mate!”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Forgetting the morality of the attack wasn’t possible. He remembered a similar laundry at home. His grandmother had fed her family by working there. It was just too easy to imagine some other Grandma sacrificing for her family.

Walking over to the communications counsel he “accidentally” pushed the ship’s transponder button, breaking radio silence. Eyes wide, Communications Mate Savarino reset the button. Informed the captain and reported the accident.

BatCon 3 hastily retreated in failure.

------

The Captain tore off Steven’s uniform’s rank tabs. “You are a disgrace to this uniform! Two years brig time!”

His career was over, but Steven never regretted making the moral choice.
 
The People's Paradise
San Lorenzo was billed as a modern paradise where every citizen lived a carefree life. The avenue from the airport to the hotel was a showcase of modern stores, discos and hotels all focused on the soft sand beach and ocean beyond. The hotel arose from verdant grounds across the beach-front road from the sand.

Casa Mona was built like a bookshelf. All of the rooms looked across street the low-lying shops and sand across the azure sea. The back wall was solid concrete without openings of any kind. The long corridors connecting the rooms had continuous vibrant murals with a different theme on each floor.

Jackie had to know: what did “paradise” look like on the other side of the hotel, behind this concrete wall?

The stairs at the end of the corridor led to the roof. Door locked. And then down toward the lobby the at each floor the stair landing had an extra door; a door facing the rear of the building; the second floor door was propped open by the maids’ cart revealing a room filled with natural light. The service room was what one would expect. Stacks of toilet paper and clean sheets and towels, cases of water and a in the back wall, next to the window, a laundry chute.

A window with a glimpse of San Lorenzo paradise. Words are not enough to describe the open-air concrete troughs or the laborers sweating under the tropic heat. The facility that the hotel brochure described as, “the most modern laundry facility in the region.”
 

The Flying Machines​


When I was young, my parents would punish me if they found I had been to the derelict city. Nevertheless, I would often go. Their cause was not helped by its proximity; just beyond the last row of trees that marked the edge of our farm. It was a constant temptation. Often I would sneak away for hours, playing in its deserted streets and exploring the crumbling buildings.

Looking back, I think my mother and father were more concerned for my safety than my spiritual well being. But one day, when I was just eight or nine, they took me to see the Sayer. He was a grey old man with a face like a skull and a voice so spent you had to lean in close to hear him, at which point his foul breath became overwhelming. He terrified children and dismayed their parents in equal measure.

“Machines destroy everything, boy! Just seeing those mechanisms rotting in the city streets will lead you to the Devil. Do you know what hell is, boy?”

He proceeded to describe it for me. But still I would go to the city.

One day, when I was older and my parents even less able to control me, I took a girl from the village to see the machines, hoping she would let me kiss her. In one structure we found a dozen; cubic in shape with round windows in the sides.

“People must have sat inside them,” she said. “But they have no wheels, so how did they move?”

“Perhaps they flew,” I replied. “I’ve heard machines could do that.”

I took the sign from outside the building and it hangs in my barn to this day. LAUNDERETTE it says, whatever that means.

I never did get that kiss.
 
Kajar and the Merchant of Khava

....After docking at Khava in the land of the giant wyrms, Kajar headed straight to the souk to confront the merchant Wipnozz. He found the shop and, stepping over a pile of stones in the doorway, entered. Wipnozz, about to greet the customer, scowled on recognising him.
...."These boots," Kajar said, throwing a pile of leather on the floor. "You said they were the magical Boots of Borgis - seven league boots. I wore them but wasn't transported seven leagues. In fact, after walking about 21 miles they fell apart."
...."Yes, I said they were seven league boots," sneered Wipnozz. "I made no claim about magical properties. I described them perfectly - they lasted the advertised seven leagues. There are the real boots." Wipnozz gestured at the back wall shelves.
...."Well I demand a refund or," growled Kajar, "perhaps I'll take the real ones."
...."Oh, you'll take them will you?" Wipnozz gave an almost imperceptible nod. The sound of grating made Kajar spin around to see the pile of stones slowly uncoiling into - a deadly stone-wyrm!
....Ashen faced, Kajar turned back to Wipnozz. "Perhaps I was a little hasty with my threat."
...."Then perhaps I'll take something from you." Another nod and the wyrm slithered towards Kajar.
....With the only exit blocked by the wyrm, Kajar could see no escape, so, drawing his sword, he retreated to the shop's rear and stood, back to the wall. The wyrm continued advancing, raising itself up until towering over Kajar. Another nod from Wipnozz and the wyrm struck, but, anticipating this, Kajar threw himself to one side. The wyrm crashed through the mudbrick wall, leaving a huge gap. Kajar took this chance, grabbed the real Boots of Borgis, pulled them on, jumped through the hole and with one stride escaped to continue his adventures.
 
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